Print to web: 10 tips for repurposing documents

If your organisation still takes a print-first approach to content, here are some tips to help you repurpose it for the web.

The content strategy world is abuzz with talk of adaptive content—content that is chunked and structured for use across a range of devices. However many organisations, particularly large government departments, are still firmly stuck in the world of print. They create brochures, fact sheets, reports and so on, and then publish these online in the same format they were created in—documents. Often, this sort of content gets no more attention than the time it takes to upload as PDF files.

Here’s how to make this sort of content suitable for the web.

1. Don’t just publish it because you can

There is a tendency to publish content online just because it exists. You’ve created it already, so why not put it online?  After all, someone, somewhere might find it useful someday. This attitude leads to websites full of content that no one uses. It wastes staff time (when publishing, maintaining, auditing or archiving it) and makes your site more complex for users (they may see more search results or have more links to decide between).

Before you publish, think about whether the content is useful to your users. Is it of current interest? Does it support a new service, program or product? Does it relate directly to an important or frequent task? Are your users contacting you about this issue? Is it being discussed in the media? Do your web usage logs reveal keyword searches related to this content?

2. Convert to topic or task pages

Don’t think in terms of documents, but topics and tasks. For instance, if you’re publishing an annual report online, you can’t repurpose it as a single web page. It will need to be like a mini website—a series of topic or task-focused pages linked from an annual report ‘home’ page. You may even need to create topic sections, and link pages from topic landing pages.

3. Write appropriate page titles and descriptions

Every page you create will need an appropriate HTML title and meta description to help users find your content when they search and re-find it in browser bookmarks or the browser history. Good titles also help with search engine optimisation and social media linking.

4. Restructure to bring important information up front

Help users quickly find the most meaningful or useful content by restructuring the original. This may mean re-ordering the sequence of pages or sections in a larger document, or reworking the structure of a single page, or both. Think about using structures such as the inverted pyramid (conclusion or key information first) or the M-A-D-E formula (Main message first, followed by the Action, then the Detail, and finally the Extra detail).

5. Edit to make content more concise

Review the content, rewriting to remove unnecessary sections, paragraphs, sentences, phrases or words.

6. Add sub-headings

Make sub-topics visible by adding meaningful sub-headings. Improve the appearance of content by breaking it up with sub-headings: often print content has much longer sections than will work well on screen.

7. Rewrite links so they’re informative

Don’t leave links as URLs (web addresses). Rewrite them using words so users know where the link will lead them. This can also help with search engine optimisation.

8. Remove references to page numbers

Search for and remove any references to page numbers within the original document. Add links to topic pages, if needed.

9. Remove references to your website

Delete statements such as ‘see our website for more information’, or rewrite and link to the relevant page. Don’t ever leave links in the content that just take users back to your home page.

10. Rework images and provide appropriate text alternatives

Resize images so they’re appropriate for the screen. Ensure lines and labels are legible, changing text size and colour contrast where necessary. Add text labels or use texture if images rely on colour alone to provide meaning. Remove text unless it’s within graphs, charts or maps, and include in the body of the page instead.  Do not publish images of data tables—recreate as a table in HTML. Write a text alternative for all images, except those that are purely decorative.